Mabon and the Forgotten Queen

This was a blog post from Witches and Pagans originally posted on September 17th, 2012. Blodeuwedd is a goddess that I work very closely with.

 

Mabon is the Sabbat where the focus of the wheel of the year goes from Life and growth to Death and the harvest. It is when the young God experiences death and begins his journey to the Underworld. It is also when the White Goddess begins her descent to the Underworld to take her rightful place as the Queen of Death. The Welsh figure of Blodeuwedd is an often ignored facet of the Queen of Death.

Blodeuwedd is a Goddess that modern audiences have a hard time viewing outside of the lense of our industrial, patriarchal culture. Blodeuwedd, who comes to us in the Fourth Branch of the Welsh Mabinogion, is a woman created out of the flowers of the forest by the Gods Math and Gwydion who need a wife for Gwydion’s son Lleu; Lleu has been cursed by his mother, Arianrhod, to never take a human wife. Blodeuwedd’s story is often seen as one of rape and revenge, similar to the way the Arthurian legends are often treated. It is a story that most people never try to reconstruct with the meaning it might have had to pre-Medieval Welsh listeners. For modern listeners, Blodeuwedd is not seen as the White Goddess that she is; she is viewed as a woman torn between two lovers, such as the Medieval Iseult, or Shakespeare’s Juliet, and the tale of the two Gods/men (Lleu and Gronw) becomes one of lust and revenge.

Unlike the Greek myths, where we have the original stories “written” out to us by the Greeks themselves, the Mabinogion comes to us through the interpretation of the “modern” and patriarchal society who recorded it. Christian ideology overshadows the retelling of the stories, and these tales are doomed to be seen in the shadow of modern ideologies. Blodeuwedd as a Goddess is a victim not of rape, but of misinterpretation.

In the modern scenario, Blodeuwedd has no agency of her own as an individual and therefore no power as the Goddess that she is; she is the tool of the men around her, rather than a woman with true power. She becomes an excuse to shame women and is not seen as the force of nature she is, the force that assists in turning the wheel of the year. In this way, Blodeuwedd becomes similar to Pandora and Galatea, a plaything of a thunder wielding, sky father God. But let us remember that Blodeuwedd is a creature of the forces of land and nature worshipped by the agrarian Celts.

In the contemporary retelling of Blodeuwedd’s story, we sense that Math and Gwydion’s intentions are simply to create a wife for Lleu; that there are no other reasons that this woman needs to be brought into existence. But consider that Math and Gwydion create Blodeuwedd from the flowers of the forest, which symbolize the life and death aspects of the cycle of the year; they are intentionally drawing the White Goddess of the Underworld, the White Lady of Death, into the physical realm. Blodeuwedd of the Underworld is the balance to Lleu’s role as the Lord of the Sun.

Arianrhod, Lugh’s mother (another misunderstood Welsh Goddess), foreshadows the role that Blodeuwedd is to play. Lleu’s birth is seen as being shameful to her in the Christian context; she is not seen as the High Priestess figure who is helping her son through his initiations to gain the power that he is destined to inherit. Gwydion’s “trickery” to make Arianrhod name Lleu, by getting her to exclaim “the young lion has a steady hand” when he kills a wren (symbol of winter), is the first place where it is understood that Lleu has to kill the Old God in order to take his rightful place as God of the Sun. It is the starting point for the task that Blodeuwedd will assume in order to facilitate this cycle. Blodeuwedd’s lover Gronw is the wren that Lugh originally kills to claim his title. Life and Death work side by side to ensure this cycle continues.

Blodeuwedd is the physical manifestation of the Goddess of the Underworld. Just as Persephone in the Greek myths, Blodeuwedd is aware of what she is doing when she tasks Gronw with killing Lleu. Blodeuwedd’s “choice” between Lleu and Gronw is the neverending cycle of Growth and the Harvest. The Sun God must die so that winter may come: the cycle of death and rebirth again and again. Blodeuwedd is not just a woman who is torn between two lovers through Math and Gwydion’s magic; she is an incarnation of the White Goddess.

Blodeuwedd’s role in this cyclical story is an integral part of what Mabon symbolizes. When we forget the basic meanings behind the stories of our holidays or misinterpret their meanings, we forget the true importance of what we are celebrating. Blodeuwedd is not a light Goddess; she is the Dark that awaits all of us in the end, and her presence at Mabon should be considered in light of her true aspect.

Advertisements

Winter in New Orleans: News and Notes

Three weeks ago we had snow and ice for the first time in New Orleans in five years! It’s pretty rare that we actually get cold weather like that down here. People back home in Ohio always laugh at me when I complain about the cold. While it usually only gets down into the 20s and 30s for a few weeks, very few of us have central heat. And most of us live in really old houses that were built to stay cool in the intense heat of our summers. The houses are raised off the ground and have no insulation. While they do an excellent job of staying cool in the summer, there is no way to stay warm in the winter! Two weeks ago, I went into my office, which also does not have heat and found that it was a balmy 49 degrees. Cold like this is draining and hard to recover from, even when dressed warmly.

It was however, the perfect weather to really embrace Yule and Imbolc. Winter is of course the time of death and the resting Earth and sometimes it’s hard to really take a moment and enjoy that stillness and have that break when things never really take a wintry break. The frost and ice actually allowed us to have a winter this year!

But, I will admit that I was happy to have nice weather return. It’s been in the 60s and beautiful the last week and just in time for Mardi Gras! Walking into work the other morning I walked past this:

1620700_10101537046323718_11866954_n

And so the cycle starts all over again: life to death to life.

Just some quick announcements!

I just wrote an article about my partner, Kenny Klein for The Green Egg, one of the oldest running Pagan magazines in America! Their Imbolc edition is now out and is available in print for the first time in years. You should go buy a copy and check it out! The article is titled “Kenny Klein: A Kiss in the Dreamhouse.”

Feb_2014

The new book from Llewellyn is also coming out soon and you can now preorder it from Amazon!

517SyMt+FRL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Last weekend, while at Pantheacon, I sat on a Llewellyn panel about death and ancestor work. The Wild Hunt posted a picture!

From left to right: Tess Whitehurst, Elysia Gallo, Tony Mierzwicki, Jhenah Telyndru, Me, Stephanie Woodfield, Kenny Klein

From left to right: Tess Whitehurst, Elysia Gallo, Tony Mierzwicki, Jhenah Telyndru, Me (Lauren DeVoe), Stephanie Woodfield, Kenny Klein

Last night was my subkrewe’s inaugural march in Chewbacchus, our science fiction and fantasy geek parade! The Party Elves of Mirkwood was a hairbrained scheme cooked up to honor the Randy Thrandy meme from The Lord of the Rings. We had a heck of a lot of fun and think others did as well. You should have been there! It’s totally started my Mardi Gras season off with a bang and is only the beginning! But I was briefly interviewed in The New Orleans Advocate during Comic Con about Chewbacchus, which was a lot of fun.

tumblr_morzyivMGM1s6k4jxo1_500

The Golem

While we were in LA, we went to LACMA. One of their current exhibits is “Masterworks of Expressionist Cinema: The Golem and Its Avatars” and one of the focuses of the exhibit was the film Der Golem: Wie er in die Welt kam (The Golem: How He Came into the World).

It was a fascinating exhibit (you can read more about it here). But the golem itself is a really interesting bit of Jewish folklore.

Traditionally formed out of clay, a golem is created in clay by a rabbi in imitation of how God created man. By inserting the word emet (אמת, “truth” in Hebrew) on the Golem, the rabbi breathes life into his creation after many other magical incantations and prayers. To “kill” the golem, the e in emet would be removed, which changes the word from “truth” to “death” (met מת, meaning “dead”).

Golems were creatures created to protect the Jews. The most famous story of a golem is the story of Rabbi Loew and the golem he created to protect the Jews in Prague in the 16th century against antisemitic attacks. The story goes that golems were not allowed to be active on the sabbaths (there are all kinds of reasons why, but one says that the golem would go on a murderous rampage instead of being protective) and so Rabbi Loew would deactivate the golem every Friday evening. One weekend, forgetting to deactivate the golem, Rabbi Loew had to trick the golem into dying. When he manage to deactivate the golem, it fell to pieces. The body was taken to the attic of the synagogue where legend has it, it will rise again when needed. While the attic has since been renovated and no evidence of the golem was found, some stories say that it was reburied in a graveyard in Prague and waits for a need to rise again to this day.

Want to create your own? This article says it can tell you how! Well, really it tells you that it’s a lot harder than you might expect.

Or, if you want a bit of a giggle, The Best of Craigslist always delivers: Looking for Rabbi Versed in DARK TALMUDIC ARTS to create GOLEM.

Death, the other side of Life

Every time my father, who has some serious health problems, goes to a new doctor he signs the DNR forms (Do Not Resuscitate). And each time, he has to explain to the doctor that if something happens during a surgery and he ends up brain-dead, he does not want to be kept alive. The doctor usually argues with him. But my father does not see that as being any sort of life; he would prefer to be released to whatever comes next. I would never act against his wishes in this sort of matter.

Where has our respect for death gone?

I’ve watched family members battle death down to the very bitter end, and I’ve watched other family members pass out of this world and into the next peacefully and quietly. Death is inevitable, it comes to all of us in the end. How you meet it, is completely up to you.

From the doctor’s perspective, it seems, life is life and the quality of it doesn’t necessarily matter. The point is to save life. I have a friend who recently graduated from medical school and is now doing her residency as an OBGyn in high risk pregnancy cases. I drive her up the wall when I tell her that if I ever have children, I want to have a home birth. I want to be comfortable in my own home, with the atmosphere that I choose. Her argument is that something can go wrong in an instant and if it does, I’ll want to be at a hospital where they can fix it. I think the differences in our attitudes is the fear of death. In her perspective, we have to be extremely proactive to insure that life is saved. In mine, I see birth and the possibility of death as natural aspects of the process. I have faith in my body to do what it needs to do. Does this mean that I won’t check with a doctor before hand? No, I will certainly go and see my doctor and make sure the basics are in order. I have the ability to do that, so why wouldn’t I? But I also think that the process of life has to occur the way it is meant to.

I see this argument often in our current society. I see it in the Pro-Lifers, who don’t seem to want to take into consideration the life of the mother and child after delivery or during the pregnancy, and I see it in our treatment of issues of gun control and the wars we’re fighting in the Middle East.

As a Pagan and especially as a Wiccan, I respect death and the role that it plays as much as I respect life.

This perspective on death is one of the big differences between Paganism and Monotheistic/Abrahamic religions. As a Pagan, I do not fear Death. While death itself may not be a pleasant experience, whatever comes for me next is not something to be feared.

When I was originally taking my Classics classes in college and we started talking about how Christianity went from a cult that the Romans were trying to wipe out to one that was the state religion, one of the things we talked about was that Christians offered something that people really liked, they offered an afterlife and answered the question of why you go wherever you go.  According to that world view, what you do in this life affects where you go in the next. Essentially, by living a moral life, you get to go to a nice happy place and if you do not live a good and moral life, you get to burn in Hell for eternity.

Understandably, this sort of world-view causes a great fear of Death. Death should be held off at all costs

As a Pagan, my world-view is not so black and white. Living a “good” and “moral” life is not a part of my particular liturgy. My values encompass things like focusing on my environment and my community. Essentially, I don’t need a nice after life as an incentive. There are other consequences for my actions.

In Wicca and in Ceremonial Magic, Death and Life are two sides of the human experience; In Kaballah the Tree Of Life illustrates this, in that life has a dark and light side. Not good and evil, but life and death (as well as conscious and unconscious, male and female, etc). In Wicca we believe the same thing: there is light and dark, and this concept includes life and death. This idea is completely antithetical to the Abrahamic ideas that most of us grew up with. The Light and Dark do not represent good and evil, they represent life and death in magical theory.

The High Priestess from the Tarot

The High Priestess from the Tarot demonstrates these ideas.

But I think this idea of death being the ultimate end and the fear that it brings, is an insidious perspective that we in the Pagan community don’t even realize that we’re carrying around. Death is not something that we should fear, it is something that we should strive to understand and incorporate into our work and practices. We need to embrace Death fully to be able to truly understand life. Death is natural and normal. Death is simply our transition to whatever happens next and when we fear it, we ignore it or separate ourselves as far from it as we can and when we do that, we can’t understand fully half of the world that we live and work in.